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Short Circuit: A Festival of Eletronica presents
Raster- Noton and Mute
12 – 15 May 2011
13 May 2011
Influential, independent British label Mute kick up the tempo for 2011's Short Circuit festival at the Roundhouse with a roster of Electronic musicians and DJ's that would make The Chemical Brothers seem conservative. Founded by Daniel Miller in 1978 and famous for kick starting the careers of Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp and Nick Cave, Mute has always championed distinct and original music, defying convention and introducing the world to many artists who have now become household names.
In the main space, crowds of people fling their arms into the air and jerk their bodies from side to side in euphoric prostration before the high priest of Electronica, Moby. He draws as little attention to himself as possible, standing behind the decks in a low light, unassuming and composed - there is no need for this curious, humble man with the shiny pate to stand out. His music says it all. And what authority it inflicts upon our eardrums, deploying Techno beats like the pilot of a Stealth Bomber. Guttural cries howl out of the speakers as he overdoses the crowd on a sonic cocktail of Acid House infused with Psytrance. Limbs flail, bodies shake in this church of Electronica; the devoted worshippers dance with the kind of fervour that would not look out of place in an Evangelical Gospel choir, except, in the famous words of Faithless, tonight “God is a DJ”. Visuals of New York blitz past, subway trains, skyscrapers, pylons and cityscapes, suddenly Moby's wide eyed face appears expressionless, yet sensitive, as the world rushes on around him, he affects a stillness in this asylum of revellers.
The Roundhouse's Main Space is a commodious venue, which was originally built in 1847 as a railway turntable engine shed, used to reverse the direction of trains. When one takes its original purpose into account, a striking parallel can be drawn between its historical use and the Short Circuit festival. Not only in terms of the fact that the word turntable, once associated with the railways, now suggests the DJ, but also how one can infer a corresponding relationship between the language we use to describe trains and the way that informs the metaphors we use to talk about music, particularly Electronica.
Out on the stairwell, the Roundhouse is heaving with people, jostling, drinks spilling and the overall din of a crowd blending with experimental sounds tumbling out through speakers. At Torquils bar, the pink lighting and low ceiling captures the atmosphere of a Berlin club as Thomas Fehlmann's trippy loops swing round and round like a carousel. A sea of waggling heads bob in unison as he takes you forward and back again, a slight acid influence oozing through the speakers.
Back in the Main Space, Richie Hawtin is on fire. Nominated as the second greatest DJ of all time by Mixmag, he is a pioneer of Minimal Techno and has been playing since he was 17. From the dives of Detroit to the super clubs of Ibiza, one thing is guaranteed, when you see him play live, every single person in the venue will be dancing. With over twenty years of experience, Hawtin is a master of the mixing desk - you only need to look at the way his hands nimbly leap from laptop to mixer, tweaking knobs and unleashing a torrent of sound that hits you like a stampede. Hawtin's style of DJing is unique, as, rather than relying on drops, he takes you on a journey, pushing you forward within the alien landscape of his music. He allows the tension to build up but, as the bass line pounds out its path he adds staccato off notes, adding a side swiping angle to the dominant progression of the track. The party goers flick their hips out with abandon, nodding, dancing and cheering as his set takes another dive down deeper into the twisting labyrinth of his music, we lose ourselves.
As the night progresses, the music takes on a darker more experimental tone in the Studio Theatre. Yet outside, many revellers have to queue frustrated, unable to get in as the studio is “subject to limited capacity”. Within the confines of the intimate space, the enigmatic Richard H Kirk stands contemplatively still at his mixer. A surreal screen of pixellated video footage plays behind him, from news reports of the 1980’s to abstracted shapes. Kirk was a member of Cabaret Voltaire, an experimental three piece formed in 1970's Sheffield and since then he has performed under dozens of aliases. His music is highly cerebral and ambient, swallowing blips morph with pulsing bass lines in an unpredictable collage of sound. The repetition of samples read in robotic voices like “your skin is burning” have a disquieting effect, as Kirk pushes us to the limits of possible audial endurance by releasing such a high pitched frequency it becomes painful to listen, yet he and most of the other listeners stand unfazed. When does pleasure become pain? Do the extremes of Electronica display masochistic tendencies? These are all questions that his music plants inside one's head, but I wasn't willing to get Tinnitus to find out.
Mute's eclectic array of artists shows how Electronica is developing, in terms of entertainment and experimentation and it is a label that should be supported for its willingness to advance the boundaries of music. From Richie Hawtin's fantastically gripping set that had the whole Main Space convulsing like victims of electro shock therapy to Richard H Kirk's pensive abstractions, there is a wide spectrum of talent and experience here for you to enjoy and reflect upon. Despite the disruptive lighting in the Main Room, which felt quite disconnected from the music, Short Circuit is a fantastic festival for electronic music lovers, or people who just want to know what it’s like to have their ears syringed by synthesizers.
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